Friday, June 13, 2014

Warblers at Howell Woods

I finally got a chance to visit Howell Woods in Johnson County this past week. I was astonished with the amazing habitat diversity at Howell Woods from bottomland forests to longleaf pine forests, all within one property. It is a breeding sight to a few noteworthy warblers such as Kentucky Warblers and one of the least observed North American birds, the Swainson's Warbler. I have missed many opportunities to take trips down here with my friends, so I jumped at the opportunity when I got in contact with a family friend, Gary, who wanted to find a good place to see Swainson's and Kentucky Warblers.

 Our morning began with dim light at 6:00 a.m. strolling down the dirt road at Howell woods. We were greeted by an Indigo Bunting singing on an exposed pine tree and continued to our first trail recommended by my friends, Outside Slough. I wiped another layer of sticky bug spray across my arm to combat the cloud of thirsty mosquitoes buzzing by my ear for a drink. We were both standing on the trail cupping our ears at our first song of a Kentucky Warbler with Yellow-billed Cuckoos chuckling in the crown of the trees.
Copperhead on the side of the trail

As we made our way farther down the trail, the Kentucky Warbler's churee came closer and closer. We played a call back and eventually one came in close enough for a shot.

You can just barely see his "side burns"

 We eventually heard a Swainson's Warbler singing, but after much patience and anticipation we had no luck and tried a different trail. We tried a more appropriately named trail to fit our needs, Warbler Way.
The trail had very little activity and we were both getting very anxious to catch a decent glimpse of a Swainson's. The trails were surrounded by canebrake that is prime breeding habitat for Swainson's Warblers.
Forest floor covered in dense canebrake, a factor that contribute to difficult views of Swainson's
At the end of the trail, we ended up on a dirt road called Plantation Rd. The trees were spaced more and proved to be helpful with visibility. Gary played a recording and suddenly a brown blur fluttered around in the top of the tree, bingo! Swainson's Warbler! After a quick glance with my binoculars, I wrestled my camera out of the bag and got plenty of shots. The Swainson's Warbler So, so, so, sweet to hear song pierced through the humid air and clouds of mosquitos right in front of our eyes, an experience I will never forget.

After our climax of the whole trip disappeared into the forest, we explored some other habitats in the park. We came across some early successional habitat of mixed pine and scrub oak that was loaded with Common Yellowthroats, White-eyed Vireos, and Prairie Warblers. Further down the path, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched on a snag with the sun hitting its iridescent throat.

 We ran into a Yellow-throated Warbler at the pond and a Yellow-breasted Chat in some of the pines. We even encountered an interesting mammal, a Fox Squirrel.
Fox Squirrel

White-eyed Vieo

White-eyed Vireo
Overall, I left Howell Woods with two lifers and a newfound birding location I will take many trips too.

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